I hiked out of Creede with Biz, following some other hikers into the southern San Juans, which were now blanketed with snow. The views were beautiful but it was intimidating to be heading up into an area that we knew would be cold and challenging. One section was not only covered in snow but also had so many blowdowns that the trail was completely lost for miles. This made for very slow progress but I was grateful for the hikers in front of me whose footprints I could follow. Those footprints became essential on the high ridges, where there were drifts nearly knee deep. I followed exactly in their footsteps for many cold, exhausting, exhilarating miles.
As the sun shone warmly on the mountains, the snow began to melt into slick slush and turned the trail into a muddy slip'n'slide. If I wanted to stay on my feet, I had to move slowly and deliberately, and this still didn't prevent me from wiping out a few times in the sloppy mud. I eventually reached a road and hitched to town at dusk. I hiked through the city park in full darkness and camped with Biz, glad to be dry at 7,300' instead of in the snow above 10,000'. In the morning, we got breakfast and I went to the post office where I got a resupply box and new shoes! We hiked out together, ready to face the last 90-something miles of Colorado.
It was a cold, brutal section with more Colorado-style climbs and frigid weather. My tent was frozen inside and out every morning and sometimes my water bottles were icy. I hiked through more snow on high ridges, postholing up to my knees while trying to maintain my balance in the wind. I saw elk and coyotes, the calls of both animals echoing through the valleys so I couldn't always tell where they were coming from. One night I camped with cows in a pine grove and another night on the side of a ridge while the wind whipped at my tent. Finally, we made it to the last town stop in Colorado just before the New Mexico border and I was delighted by what (or rather, who) I found there.
After nearly two full states apart, I had finally caught up to Spacemaker, the hiker with whom I had hiked the first 1000 miles of this trail. We decided to continue on together and hitched back up to the trail. Before I knew it, I was crossing into New Mexico, the final state on this journey. The aspens were still magnificent, but now scrubby oaks were entering the mix and incredible rock formations were appearing in the distance. It was still cold and now with unrelenting wind, but the landscape was changing rapidly. A side trail took us to a shrine to Icarus and then dropped us into a canyon. Just two days later, we were walking through the multicolored canyons that inspired the art of Georgia O'Keeffe.
We hitched to the tiny town of Abiquiu and I got some amazing homemade tamales before heading to a hostel for the night. The next morning, we watched the solar eclipse over the Abiquiu River with a group of hikers and cyclists, passing around our one pair of special eclipse glasses and marveling at the shadows. We hitched out that afternoon and camped on top of a mesa, where we had an incredible view of the surrounding landscape and also of the dazzling night sky.
We hiked up, across and down mesas for days, in awe of the rock formations and incredible color of the desert. Water is becoming scarce and carries are getting longer and longer as the days continue to get shorter. Getting to camp with enough daylight to set up is becoming difficult! The upcoming landscape is favorable for big miles, but the long water carries and hot sun may prove to be challenging. I can't believe that I'm entering my fifth month on trail and have less than 600 miles to go!!
When I resupply, I look at how many miles I need to hike until my next stop and what the terrain is like to determine how many days' worth of food I will need. The more I hike, the better I get at this calculus, but sometimes I still get it wrong. On this last stretch through the Gila River Wilderness, I definitely got it wrong and my hiking partner and I ended up a bit at odds, having some severe food anxiety for days and being VERY hungry. How did it go so wrong?
Usually I make my food before I leave home, dehydrating and measuring and preparing every meal with nutrition, calorie content and weight in mind. I sort all of my food into resupply boxes and label them for post office drops along the way. Sometimes, however, things get messy. A box gets lost in the mail. I arrive on a holiday weekend and would have to wait 3 days for...
Honestly though, this hike has been worlds apart from my thru hike of the PCT. The trail itself has a very different feel, the people are different, and I am a different hiker than I was on my last journey. This hike has been such a unique experience from any of my other hikes and I am so grateful for it.